Tuesday, 02.9.2010 / 10:14 AM CT / News
By Glen Andresen - Manager of Social Media
Photo Gallery: Team Finland
Shots of the Wild's Finns playing for their country at IIHF World Championships and the Olympics
Photo Gallery: See Helsinki
See some of the sights that Wild players will take in during their trip to Finland.
Wild TV: Wild Reactions
Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom give their reactions to playing in their home country
Wild TV: Todd Richards 2/9/10
After practice, Todd talks about the trip to Finland and other team news to the media
The games will be played Thursday, October 7 and Friday, October 8, as part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Games. Four other teams – Columbus, San Jose, Boston and Phoenix – will begin their seasons in Europe. Columbus and San Jose will play in Stockholm, Sweden and Boston and Phoenix will play in Prague, Czech Republic.
As the rosters currently stand, six Finnish stars will take part in the action. Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen are on the current Wild roster, while Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen play for the Canes.
For the three Wild Finns, it’s been a year of good news. All three were named to the Finnish Olympic roster, and now, all three will be playing regulation games in front of friends and relatives. Backstrom will play in his hometown of Helsinki, while Koivu will get to face his former TPS Turku team in an exhibition game in his hometown prior to the Premiere.
“To show your family and friends who you grew up with and who have been supporting you, helping you on the way here, it’s a nice thing to show them some NHL hockey,” said Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
This is the fourth consecutive season that NHL games have been played overseas, and the second straight year that games will be played in Finland. But it’s the first time either Minnesota or Carolina have played overseas, and the first time for the potential of at least six Finns playing in the hockey-mad country.
“They follow a lot of hockey back home,” said Wild captain Mikko Koivu. “We have the pro league back home and there’s a lot of good players there. Guys who play in the NHL or Europe; they don’t have the chance to see it that much. Usually it’s the Olympics or World Championships, and that’s about it. Hopefully they’ll be excited for that, and it’s going to be great for us.”
All three Finns mentioned how excited they are to play in front of family and friends, but it will be especially meaningful to Miettinen, whose father, Martti, has never seen him play an NHL game in person.
“My father likes hockey, but he’s never been here to watch games. He’s never flown in his life,” said Miettinen with a chuckle. “He doesn’t like airplanes, so I’m excited that he’ll probably be there. To play in front of friends and family is going to be great.”
Of course, a trip to Europe wouldn’t be complete without some sightseeing with the Finnish trio serving as tour guides. The Wild will likely depart on Friday, October 1 and is scheduled to face TPS Turku, a team that Koivu used to play for and is now a part owner of, on a to be determined date.
In between the exhibition game, the practices and the matchups with the ‘Canes, Koivu plans on finally showing his teammates what he and his countrymen have raved about.
“The Finnish sauna, we always talk about that here,” said a grinning Koivu. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see the cities a little bit and see the country. It should be fun.”
The Wild will return home after the Friday night game. Although the NHL schedule won't be released until mid-summer, the Wild will have at least four days off before its next game. The games will be televised on the NHL Network.
While this will be a great opportununity for the Wild to reach a more global audience, the questions tend to surface about travel fatigue and adjustments to time changes. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards didn't think that would be an issue.
"From a team-building standpoint, I think it's great that you're on the road and you get to spend some time with one another," said the coach who has experience playing Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Russia. "I look at it as a great experience and a chance for your team to get out and be with one another."
Wild defenseman Greg Zanon, who has never been to Europe, agreed.
"It should be fun. I think it will be a great experience for all of us. I'm sure the guys from Finland will show us a good time, and I'm sure the people will be great."